How Are You Different?

—Standing out during a job search

Not long ago I was hiring for an open position on my marketing team. I was bombarded with 200 applications—and that was before the economy went sour.

I personally looked at every single application. Very quickly, though, my eyes glazed over. Everyone looked alike. They all seemed to be saying the same thing. They even used the same words to describe themselves. Every cover letter, it seemed, had at least one of these sentences embedded in it:

I am an excellent communicator.

I’m very organized.

I’m a problem solver.

I am very results oriented.

I want to make a difference.

I am an experienced project manager.

I’m a great team player.

(Insert your own cliche here)

Sorry. I don’t mean to be jaded. I assume each applicant was sincerely speaking from the heart, but here’s my point:  When everyone said the same thing, I felt like I’d walked into a Baskin-Robbins store where the only flavor was vanilla. Everyone, it seemed, had bought the same book on writing cover letters and they even selected the same buzz phrases to use.

From the pool of applicants, some names drifted towards the top. I finally selected eight qualified candidates who looked different and intriguing. These were individuals who sounded as though they could engage with me in a worthwhile conversation. They also shared the following traits:

  1. They were unique. They did something to stand out from the rest of the pack. FYI, their ability to stand out was not by submitting a resume printed on neon orange paper. They differentiated themselves by a) what they said and b) how they said it.
  2. They were interesting. Several told me a story in their cover letter. (And yes, they were able to tell a story in a paragraph or less.) Their ability to tell interesting stories continued into the interview. That turned the interview into an interesting, interactive conversation rather than a one-way interrogation.
  3. They were themselves. That trait alone—being oneself—is often differentiating. As I looked for the right person, I was not looking for someone trying to fit a particular cookie-cutter mold. I wanted someone who was authentic, genuine and “comfortable in his/her own skin.”

My advice to any job seeker is:  Be different. Be unique. Or, as Simon Cowell used to tell American Idol contestants—”Be memorable!”

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4 Responses to How Are You Different?

  1. Debra Hayes says:

    Great advise Duane – – thanks for sharing.

  2. Sherri says:

    Excellent advice – and something we don’t often think about as we all write our own cover letters. By trying to be “safe” – we come across as vanilla. I’ll remember that the next time!

  3. DeneneWrites says:

    Always such great advice, Duane. I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to hear it from you first hand as my mentor! I’m glad you decided to share it with the masses!

    • Duane Hallock says:

      Denene, I write what I know, and what I know comes, in part, from the people I’m connected with. So I’ll return the compliment and thank you for being a friend and professional contact. You’ve help me. Thanks.

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